Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Getting in the Crib With Muppet Babies

With Muppets Most Wanted now in theaters (read my review here), I figured I'd use this week's entry to look back on another Muppets entry for which I'm sure many folks of my vintage have fond memories: the Muppet Babies animated series, which enjoyed a very healthy eight season run as part of CBS's Saturday morning lineup from 1984 to 1991, and remains a fairly beloved artifact of that era. The concept for the show actually originated with the dream sequence below, from the 1984 feature Muppets Take Manhattan:

That flick hit theaters in summer of '84, with the cartoon version following just a few short months later, which means the Jim Henson Company saw the licensing potential fairly early on in the movie's development cycle, and worked to have the 'toon ready to tie-in with the film. Thus, they teamed with animation studio Marvel Productions (which had already found Saturday AM success with Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends) to bring the Muppets back to series TV for the very first time since their weekly variety show ended in '81:

The premise of Muppet Babies wasn't an especially complicated one. It's right there in the title. It's the Muppets as babies. Thus, Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo, and the rest having various adventures while being babysat by their seen-but-not-heard Nanny (reassuringly voiced by Leave it to Beaver's Barbara Billingsley). Muppet Babies ended up being the leading edge of a brief (bizarre) trend that saw a whole raft of beloved characters "baby-fied," with the Flinstones, Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry, and Yogi Bear all getting the treatment in the next few years (I'm sure I'll get to those here at some point).

Random observation: in addition to most of the Muppet regulars, the cast included an original creation named Skeeter, the twin sister of Kermit's long-suffering assistant Scooter. What's weird to me is that Skeeter doesn't appear in any of the later, live action stuff, which immediately makes me wonder what calamity claimed Skeeter and forced the other Muppets to take a vow of silence. Maybe that's just me. Anyway, Muppet Babies also launched a fair amount of merchandising as well, like this McDonald's Happy Meal program from 1987:

Despite the fact that Muppet Babies racked up 107 episodes, no comprehensive home video release has ever hit. No idea why, but a theory is that the extensive use of clips from popular TV shows and movies (such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones) in their imaginary adventures could pose a legal hurdle. Of course, in subsequent years, at different times, the Henson Company and Marvel were both acquired by Disney (as was Lucasfilm, natch), so at this point it's entirely up to the Mouse House clearing the few remaining hurdles that'll determine when/if this series sees the light of day again. Hopefully it does!

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